Why a school district changed its name


The 12,000-student school district in the northwestern Pennsylvania city of Erie is no longer calling itself the Erie School District.

Instead, officials are rebranding the district as Erie’s Public Schools, designed to promote the idea that the public owns the schools. Matthew Cummings, the district’s director of communications, was quoted by the Erie Times-News as saying:

As part of our goal to involve the community in the education process, we thought that apostrophe was extremely important.

At a time when the public education system is being increasingly privatized by school reformers who call public schools “government schools” and want public tax dollars to pay for private school tuition, Erie’s move is refreshing.

Increasingly some school reformers are using the term “government-run monopolies” to describe traditional public schools. This was part of a strategy for promoting school vouchers spelled out more than a decade ago. In 2002, Dick DeVos, the son of the co-founder of Amway gave a speech at the Heritage Foundation (a portion of which you can see in this video) that urged voucher proponents to refer to public schools as “government schools” to conjure the image of big government telling people what to do. He also said, “We need to be cautious about talking too much about these activities,” apparently out of fear that critics would take steps to counter his strategy.  They aren’t cautious about talking about their activities in public any longer.

Historian and education activist Diane Ravitch writes about the privatization movement in her new book, “Reign of Error: The Hoax of the Privatization Movement and the Danger to America’s Public Schools”:

“Reform” is really a misnomer, because the advocates for this cause seek not to reform public education but to transform it into an entrepreneurial sector of the economy. The groups and individuals that constitute today’s reform movements have appropriated the word “reform” because it has such positive connotations in American political discourse and American history. But the roots of this so-called reform movement may be traced to a radical ideology with a fundamental distrust of public education and hostility to the public sector in general.

The apostrophe in Erie’s Public Schools is more than a simple apostrophe.

Valerie Strauss covers education and runs The Answer Sheet blog.
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Valerie Strauss · November 13, 2013